Betty Lin-Fisher: Consumer alerts, natural gas/electricity update, insurance update

By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal consumer columnist

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The Ohio Department of Aging has issued a consumer alert for older adults following several incidents in southern Ohio of scammers impersonating staff of elder services agencies to attempt to get information or access to homes. Families should be aware of anyone showing up unannounced to their homes claiming to represent an area agency on aging or similar organization.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim:

• Do not allow anyone to come into a home unannounced. A representative of an area agency on aging would schedule a visit and allow the visit to be verified.

• Ask for identification and call 866-243-5678 to be connected to an area agency for verification. Agency representatives are required to carry a badge or other documents identifying them as an employee.

• If asked to complete or sign forms, review them first and mail them in later. Verify any forms with the agency before completing or signing. If the person insists you sign in their presence, refuse and ask him or her to leave.

• If you suspect you’ve been visited by an imposter, report the incident to local law enforcement. Include a description of the person and, if possible, their vehicle.

• Scammers also call consumers and ask for information. Legitimate representatives provide an employee name and call-back number. If you suspect fraud, get the caller’s name, then call 866-243-5678.

The department said scammers may claim to represent any of these organizations: area agency on aging, council on aging, office of aging, the state program called Passport, or other organizations with similar titles. In all the currently known incidents, the consumers suspected fraud and refused to comply.

Similarly, the Ohio Department of Insurance is warning of telephone con artists using confusion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to steal personal information. Scammers claim to be representatives of a health insurance exchange, Medicare or a government program.

Natural gas/electric issues

Natural gas customers are asking questions about mailings or door-to-door solicitors from various companies offering what they say are cheaper natural gas and electric rates.

Just because a company mails you an offer or knocks on your door and promises to save you money, that doesn’t mean it will happen.

As a reminder, for natural gas, I believe consumers should be on the Standard Choice Offer (SCO) with a provider assigned by Dominion East Ohio using the monthly formula approved by regulators. The price changes monthly. While it’s on a slight upswing (the price as of May 15 will be $4.75 per thousand cubic feet or mcf), it is still less than the fixed prices offered by competitors. They are in the range of $5.50/mcf and higher.

If you have a community aggregation price that is lower, it might be worth considering. But not all community aggregation prices have been competitive.

Check your bill for your current rate. If the bill does not say SCO on it, you are not on that rate. Call the company you are with, find out what contract terms you are under and whether there are any cancellation fees associated with leaving. In general, if you are paying much more than the current SCO rates, it would be worth your while to pay the cancellation fee and switch.

For electricity, the answer is not as simple. Each account has wording called the “price to compare” on the bill (in the messages section on the first page). That is the price, based on your account’s usage, that you would need to get from a competitor to save money.

Next, take that information and get the Apples to Apples chart of all of the available electricity offers from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for Ohio Edison.

You can either do that online at www.puco.ohio.gov or by calling 800-686-7826 and requesting the listings by mail. Consider all of the offers and the contract lengths and early cancellation fees.

Insurance update

Last week, I wrote about making sure that you understand insurance coverage for you if you borrow a car or let someone else borrow your car. The column is available online at www.ohio.com/betty.

Basil Galati, an independent insurance agent, phoned to tell me of two other trends he’s noticing. Insurers in Ohio have been hit pretty hard in recent years with claims for hail and other storm damage. So they are looking for ways to save money, Galati said.

Some insurers have begun notifying policy holders that they will be raising deductibles and for roof damage, they are not offering full reimbursement for a replacement.

In some cases, the insurer is no longer paying for the full amount of what it costs a homeowner to replace a damaged roof, but instead only reimbursing what’s called “Actual Cash Value,” which means the actual cost to replace the roof, taking its age and depreciation into value, Galati said.

“You’ll have to eat the depreciation. They’re saying ‘Why would we give you a brand new roof when the roof is 20 years old,’ ” Galati said.

“It’s a horrible feeling to tell someone they don’t have enough coverage,” said Galati, who added that he spoke to another agent who found an insurer that is replacing only the portion of the roof that was damaged and not the whole roof.

A supervisor of an insurer recently told Galati that the insurer could either move to this method or raise everyone’s premium.

For deductibles, Galati said some companies are not offering $500 deductibles anymore, raising them to $1,000, $2,500 and in some cases, to a percentage of the value of your home.

Mitch Wilson, spokesman for the Ohio Insurance Institute, which represents the state’s property and casualty insurance companies, said the agency has “heard of some companies moving away from ‘replacement’ to an ‘ACV — Actual Cash Value’ basis [which equates to replacement cost less depreciation].”

Galati said its important to call your agent and find out how you are covered and whether there will be any changes to your policy and reimbursements. It may be necessary to shop around for another insurer, he said.

“Call your insurance [agent] and ask ‘If my roof gets damaged, how much are you going to pay me? If its a $10,000 repair bill, are you paying full or half?’ ”

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.


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